CAO figures reflect anomalies caused by COVID-19, Brexit and demographic increase

Posted 09 March, 2021

UCD first preferences increase by 16% to 9,981

Figures released on CAO applications made by the first deadline of 1 February 2021 show a significant anomaly with the normal pattern at this stage of the cycle.  

UCD Pattern

University College Dublin has reported an increase of 16% in first preferences to 9,981 between February 2021 and February 2020. UCD’s share of the first preferences for all Level 8 degrees has increased from 13.5% to 14.2%.

The first preference figures at UCD at this time show across-the-board increases in 33 of 38 degree programmes offered by UCD. 

The largest percentage increase is in DN411 Graduate Entry Radiography, up 188%. DN240 Sustainability, which was introduced last year is up 124%.  Other big increases are in DN100 Architecture (up 59%) and many of the healthcare programmes – especially nursing. 

DN453 Mental Health Nursing is up 86%, DN452 Midwifery is up 46%, DN451 Children’s and General Nursing is up 40%. DN400 Medicine is up 10% and DN401 Grad Entry Medicine is up 50%. 

The very strong common entry degrees in Engineering, Science and Computer Science are all up. The Arts and Humanities degrees are also up across the board as are the Commerce and Business & Law degrees. 

This unprecedented increase of 1,350 extra first preferences may be a result of a number of factors including COVID-19, Brexit and demographic changes, as well as the demand to study at UCD among Irish Leaving Certificate applicants. 

Reflecting on the exceptional circumstances, the Deputy President and Registrar of UCD, Professor Mark Rogers said: 

“There is an expected demographic increase in the number of school leavers at Leaving Certificate level, which feeds into the national figure.  

However the reason for the scale of the overall increase is more complex. Additional applications from EU applicants because of Brexit, increased numbers of students applying from previous years and a higher expectation of better results due to the application of accredited grades may all be contributing to the rise.”

CAO Pattern

CAO applications for Level 8 degrees have increased by 10% from 63,356 to 70,295 this year. 1,454 of these are mature students, which is unsurprising, given the economic impact of COVID-19 on many people.  

Brexit is having an impact as UK students , especially from Northern Ireland, can still come into the Irish higher education system without paying non-EU fees. These students come into the Irish system through the CAO while most other non-EU students are admitted separately. Applications from the UK are up 10% to 2,248.

This year there has also been an increase in the number of students from EU countries; up from 1,945 to 4,646 and many of these applicants may be applying to Irish universities instead of their traditional destination to UK universities.  

The trend over the past number of years has been for an increasing number of applicants to register with CAO by the 1 February date and to defer or change their preference selection until after the Leaving Certificate exams up to the 1 July change of mind deadline. With the introduction of the accredited grades option, students may be registering preferences now rather than waiting until June. 

Students have plenty of time to make or change their preferences and the final deadline is 1 July 2021. 

By Eilis O'Brien, UCD University Relations.